Monday, October 30, 2006

Shelley Sekula[-]Gibbs Explains It All For You

... In this Channel 11 report from last week, wherein the Republican write-in candidate for the 22nd Congressional District seat outlines her "position" on Iraq:
“If you put it in perspective we’ve lost 2,800 brave men and women in Iraq but we lose over 9,000 Americans at the hands of illegal immigrants every year, according to the general accounting office.”
So that means … out of the 15,000 to 16,000 or so murders in the United States annually, 9,000 are committed by illegal aliens? Or is that the total number of Americans “lost” in killings, car wrecks, industrial accidents, whatever, caused by illegal aliens? Or … what? We can’t seem to find this GAO citation, but we’ll keep looking.

Whatever she meant, we can't thank the doctor enough for putting this whole Iraq thing in perspective. We feel much better.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Nothing Like a Relationship That’s “Working”

We meant to bring this to your attention earlier but got caught up in folding laundry: Last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times had an interesting story exploring how Neil Bush’s Ignite! Learning is “benefiting,” as the paper put it, from his brother’s No Child Left Behind Act through school districts’ purchases of the company's dubious COW doohickeys. Buried down in the piece were some fragrant details about the presidential brother’s ... how shall we say ... efforts at marketing the product to the Houston Independent School District:

In Houston, where Neil Bush and his parents live, the district has used various funding sources to acquire $400,000 in Ignite products. An additional $240,000 in purchases has been authorized in the last six months.

Correspondence obtained by The Times shows that Neil Bush met with top Houston officials, sent e-mails and left voice mail messages urging bigger and faster allocations. An e-mail from a school procurement official to colleagues said Bush had made it clear that he had a "good working relationship" with a school board member. [Emphasis added]

Of this the Times said no more, but we figured some eagle-eyed member of the local 4th Estate would hop to and fill in the blanks for us by revealing the name of the mystery trustee (and maybe somebody has and we missed it).

After all, there are only nine members of the HISD board.

Gosh, we hope it’s not ours.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

4 or 5 Reasons We Might “Come Home” to Kinky

Oh, we’ll probably vote for the goofy old lady, at least that’s how we’re leaning as of 9 o’clock this evening, but of late we’ve been inclined to look more favorably on R. Friedman, mostly because:

1. Of his refusal to engage in the bullshit ritual of “apology” and submission as demanded by the state NAACP. Sam Houston would’ve done no less.

2. The prospect that his election would keep Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News in a state of profound agitation.

3. The Houston Chronicle told us not to.

4. The Democratic nominee---the only candidate we’ve ever seen who seems to recede in his own TV commercials---asked him to quit the race (suppose there’s no harm in asking).

5. After paying closer-than-usual attention (reduced to watching Scarborough Country nightly) for the past 2-3 weeks to the coast-to-coast, wall-to-wall, around-the-clock dumbshow that is electoral politics (was it ever thus?), we’ve been reminded of just how puke-sick the whole business leaves us … and so:

6. "Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." -- H.L. Mencken*

* Courtesy DJW of St. Louis, Mo.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Houston City Council Campaign Finance Disclosure Trivia Quiz, Part 4 (Special “Cleared by the Klan” Edition)

We recently gave Google News Archive Search a spin by tapping in “Oscar Holcombe,” figuring his long run as mayor of Houston (intermittently, from the 1920s through the 1950s) would give us a good idea of the search engine’s capabilities. As it turned out, most of the hits were to, which unfortunately does not meet our baseline requirement for a search engine (it’s not free) and does not include reproduced pages from the three Houston dailies (although it appears that Holcombe for some reason was frequently chronicled in the Port Arthur News).

Our search did, however, turn up an interesting article on Holcombe from the Dec. 27, 1948 Time magazine. Written with that jaunty mid-century Luce-ian élan, the profile appeared on the occasion of Holcombe’s election to a ninth term as mayor (he’d be elected twice more) and examines his durability as a political phenom in “raw and rollicking” Houston.

We had always figured Holcombe for the rawboned reactionary type, but come to find out it was the “Old Gray Fox” who set the tone for the inclusiveness and diversity and whatnot that, as we’re often reminded (by people who mostly consort with people like themselves), is one of the city’s great strengths. Check it out:
In 1922, after he refused to fire three Catholics from his administration, he was opposed by the 10,000 members of Sam Houston Klan No. 1. The Klan started a campaign of vilification, denouncing him as a chronic drinker and gambler. A Baptist, Holcombe demanded that the Baptist Ministers' Association try him on the charges at a public hearing. Although nine of the 13 ministers on the "jury" were Klansmen, they cleared him after a one-day "trial" held at the Rice Hotel a week before election. He won the election. Three campaigns later, however, he was defeated. One reason: he swung an umbrella at the publisher of a Houston newspaper who had threateningly brandished a letter-opener during a heated argument. "You just can't explain that sort of thing to the people," said Holcombe.
Hell, those were the days---when a newspaper publisher could pull a letter-opener on a mayor with impunity. So in honor of the umbrella-swinging longest-serving mayor in the city's history, and all the riches he reaped flipping land in the city he long governed, let’s take one final Houston City Council Campaign Finance Disclosure Trivia Quiz:

This councilmember and her $2,500-a-month political consultant opened a legal defense fund PAC earlier this year that has reported receiving contributions from former Portland Trailblazers great Clyde Drexler ($1,000), the person for whom the Shirley A. DeLibero Rail Operations Center was named ($200), former Temple grocery-supply magnate Drayton McLane ($1,000), some person with an apparently limitless amount of disposable income named Bob Perry ($5,000), traffic watchamacallhim David Saperstein ($1,000) and erstwhile mayoral hopeful Ned Holmes ($2,500).

A. Carol Alvarado

B. Carol Alvarado

C. Carol Alvarado

D. Carol Alvarado

Answer to last quiz: B.) Pam Holm

Monday, October 16, 2006

Houston City Council Campaign Finance Disclosure Trivia Quiz, Part 3 (Shelley Sans Hyphen Edition)

Like most Houstonians, we spent this rainy weekend inside, with the shades drawn, checking out the Web site for the newly de-hyphenated and write-in-ready Shelley Sekula Gibbs, Republican candidate for the 22nd Congressional District (in which we once resided but no longer do [it left us, we didn’t leave it]).

We noticed something distinctive about this Web site. We looked high and low, but nowhere on it---including the “issues” link and the “talking points” link---could we find the word Iraq. The place where more than 50 Americans have died already this month.

No doubt the busy dermatologist-cum-councilwoman-cum-congressional candidate has some position on the war but just hasn’t had the time to instruct one of her factotums to post it on the site.

She is, however, pretty clear about her stand on gay marriage.

At least Nick Lampson acknowledges (kinda) there’s a war going on.

It makes us sorry we’re no longer a denizen of the 22nd Congressional District, so that we could have the satisfaction of not writing in her unhyphenated name on the electronic ballot.

To assuage our melancholy, we’ll play another round of the Houston City Council Campaign Finance Disclosure Trivia Quiz:
In the spring this councilmember generously opened his or her campaign/officeholder account to contribute to the re-election campaigns of U.S. Rep. John Culberson ($250), state Rep. Martha Wong ($250) and Gov. Rick Perry ($500), but was still flush enough to shell out $22.11 for a “gift for constituent” purchased at Helmsley’s Times Square in NYC ( how come our council member never buys us a “gift”?) and $14.06 for “reading matter” at Newark International Airport (not to mention picking up the tab for a fair number of “meetings” and “staff appreciation luncheons” at La Griglia and Arista and the like [it’s not our money---we don’t care]).

A. Ada Edwards

B. Pam Holm

C. Sue Lovell

D. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs
Answer to last quiz: C.) Carol Alvarado (too easy)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Houston City Council Campaign Finance Disclosure Trivia Quiz, Part 2 (Left Big Toe Edition)

We noticed that the gravity of Yao Ming’s achin’ big toe was sufficient to bring forth a declaration of concern from the weeping philosophers at the Houston Chronicle, who made a bold Rodney King-like call for the Rockets and the sneaker manufacturer Reebok to please, please come together to alleviate the big Chinaman’s misery.

In fact, as others have pointed out, the newspaper appears to be devoting an unusual amount of attention to toes and feet this week. Perhaps some upper-level editor there has deemed the subject part of Houston’s “master narrative.”

We, too, had considered authoring a hard-hitting editorial calling for an end to Yao’s pain, except we long ago laid out our position on the Rockets center: He’s a big puss.

That toe needs to get fixed, though, so Yao can get the hell out of the way when the Rockets put T-Mac and Bonzi on the floor together.

In the meantime, let’s take another Houston City Council Campaign Finance Disclosure Trivia Quiz. Just match the right councilmember with the item taken verbatim from the campaign and officeholder disclosure reports that were due on Jan. 1 and July 15 of this year:
Once the object of controversy for having claimed to have a degree from the University of Houston when he or she had not fulfilled all requirements for graduation, this councilmember tapped his or her officeholder account for $45 on Feb. 10 to pay for membership in the UH alumni organization (and who says the personal’s not political?).

A.) Ronald Green

B.) Pam Holm

C.) Carol Alvarado

D.) Addie Wiseman

Answer to last quiz: B.) Jarvis Johnson

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Houston City Council Campaign Finance Disclosure Trivia Quiz, Part I

Note: This blogger is offering his own perspective on a subject that interests him. The posts and opinions are his own and are not edited by anyone. He is solely responsible for the content of this blog.

We were all set to file our richly detailed 8,000-word exegesis of the Texas governor’s race, but due to our lack of interest in that ragged affair and in recognition of the news that the city of Houston may take a tentative half-step toward dragging its disclosure system into the 21st century, we will for a limited time devote this space to our special “Houston City Council Campaign Finance/Officeholder Account Trivia Quiz.” Or whatever we called it up above.

All you have to do is match the right councilmember with the item taken verbatim from disclosure reports that were supposed to be filed with the city secretary on Jan. 1 and July 15 of this year. Please begin:

1. On his or her campaign finance report due July 15 but filed on Sept. 21, this councilmember reported receiving a $500 contribution from Maxxam Inc. on April 4. Direct contributions to candidates from corporations are prohibited under the Texas Election Code.

A.) Toni Lawrence

B.) Jarvis Johnson

C.) Michael Berry

D.) Shelley Sekula-Gibbs

Each day’s answer will be provided in the following edition of Slampo’s Place, if there is one.

Remember: Keep your eyes on your own paper!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

¡Indio Apache Es Tu Papá!

There’s no clearer window into Houston’s soul, or maybe just the soft brown underbelly of its 3 a.m. fever dream, than Channel 61, the independent Spanish-language station that's carried on the Channel 3 spot on the cable system.

As the true cognoscenti know, Channel 61 is the local home to the Jose Luis Sin Censura show, a sort of lower-rent Jerry Springer (if such is possible), except the overweight and tattooed products of consanguineous marriages who strut and preen their fretful half-hour on cheeky Jose Luis’s stage sometimes appear to be actually fighting, or at least look to be a little closer to actually throwing down (lots of sweat, shirts pulled up over the head, a hint of blood on the lip) than the usual flailing-away-at-the-air and tiresome trash talk that passes for “violence” on the Springer show (we generally understand only a fraction of what they’re saying on Jose Luis, which may explain why we do not find the trash talk tiresome).

Another 61 warhorse is Secretos de Houston, in which a leather-clad team of sexy professional busybodies led by the suave J.C. Uribe uses the latest in electronic surveillance equipment to ensnare philandering Hispanic husbands and wives in their love-nest hideaways. After the offending esposa or esposo is cornered---usually by methods that in “real life” would constitute unauthorized entry---Uribe’s team ushers in the cuckolded spouse to confront his or her formerly significant other, who invariably is poised to slap the ham with someone much younger and more attractive. These confrontations always culminate in a round of Springeresque swearing and swinging, although Uribe wisely has some muscle on hand to see that nobody gets killed. (The acting’s not too bad on Secretos---a notch or two below your average TUTS production---and no knowledge of Spanish, or any other spoken language, is required to follow the “plots.”)

It appears that Secretos is a syndicated show that splices in some footage and local color for the markets where it airs. That’s what gives the show a kind of updated Naked City feel: When Uribe’s assistants tail their target past some graffiti-pocked apartment complex offering $99 move-in specials, we go, “Hey, we drive past there sometimes!” Or when a scheming husband is caught on-camera going into the Best Buy near the Galleria to procure some equipment with which to film homemade “pornos” of two senoritas mas fina (and it’s a real shame his naggin’ wife had to bust in on ’em before production got under way), we exclaim, “Hey, we shop there sometimes!”

But it’s the early morning programas pagado that really get us to thinking we should move to the south of France, or the south of Utah, as soon as we can get off the clock. Our longtime favorite---and we know there are others out there who share our enthusiasm---is the faith healer and snake handler who goes by the name of Indio Apache. (Not to be confused with his earlier-morning rival, Indian Kamacum del Amazonas, a less animated presence who bears a passing resemblance to Hidalgo “High-Born” Hidalgo, a Channel 61 viewer and the onetime reader representative and executive editor at Slampo’s Place who recently left our employ because, as he put it, “I’d rather go jump on the back of a truck at 5 a.m. everyday than keep slaving for what you pay me.”)

Indio’s the guy in the headdress and war paint who’s usually clutching a copperhead (or maybe it’s just a coral snake) while calling down the blessings of Our Lady de Guadalupe, somebody named “Padre Santos” and various other deities and sub-deities with whom we’re unfamiliar.

Money problems, bad luck, sickness, an unresponsive lover---Indio Apache says he can fix what ails you (although for some reason he’s not on our HMO’s list of preferred providers).

We’ve only seen Indio Apache a few times, usually when someone in our household has been watching a DVD the previous evening and left the TV tuned to Channel 3, so we really can’t vouch for his effectiveness, although we see no reason why he would not qualify for sponsorship by the Houston Chronicle.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Potentially Relevant Fact You Didn’t Read in the Houston Chronicle

Friday’s Houston Chronicle carried a big, above-the-fold front-page story on Bible thumper Luis Palau, whose CityFest Houston (a combination “concert meets X Games meets Christian revival,” as the paper describes it) is being staged this weekend in Eleanor Tinsley Park.

The Chronicle story notes that among the sponsors of the Palau to-do are “the Houston Astros, H-E-B and more than 550 local churches.” Elsewhere in the story the paper provides approving verbiage from another sponsor, David Weekley of David Weekley Homes, and quotes one of Palau’s assistants explaining that 19 percent of the festival’s costs are being underwritten by corporate sponsors (a beneficence that apparently permits Palau to admit all comers free of charge).

What the paper didn’t mention---and we’re sure this was an oversight---is that Palau’s corporate sponsors include … the Houston Chronicle.

This was brought to our attention earlier this week by sharp-eyed correspondent Il Pinguino, who, while reading the daily newspaper through a powerful magnifying glass, noticed the Chronicle logo tucked amid the other corporate logos at the bottom of the ads the paper has been running for the City Fest. We’ll let Il take it from here:

Other predictable sponsors (religious organizations and pious businessmen who are known Christers) and some other not-so- predictable ones, like the secular or at least unaffiliated (as the George Clooney character called himself in O Brother, Where Art Thou) Texas Children's Hospital.

Anyway, the Chronicle sponsorship (also noted on Bro. Luis' website) seemed singularly weird.

I mean, this "festival" (NOT "crusade," as Billy G. used to call such events) looks to be wholesome family fun and all that, but Palau makes no ecumenical noises beyond the big tent of traditional-doctrine Christianity. (Believe in JC's divinity or fry, in so many words--- again, check his website.)

Which leads me to wonder: Why in the world is a big city newspaper (with lots of Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and Unitarians and Muslims and non-theists [among its readers]) sponsoring a literal come-to-Jesus event? I can see the Jackson Clarion-Ledger doing it in 1954, but the Houston Chronicle in 2006?

Further cause for wonder is the nature of the Chronicle’s sponsorship of the event: Does it entail some contribution of monetary value, such as the donation of prime advertising space to Palau (our guess)? Or what, exactly? Obviously the town’s leading daily newspaper didn’t see fit to address this question in its highly favorable report on the X Games evangelist.

Another question: Would it be all right with Palau (and by extension, the Chronicle and his other corporate sponsors) if we excuse our self to go beat the holy pee out of our manservant? We believe this is biblically sanctioned in Exodus, or Leviticus or perhaps Deuteronomy, one of ’em (our Bible learnin’ went in one lobe and out the other).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Whither the Rum Runners?

Five or six months ago we were killing the end of a nearly-dead-anyway Saturday afternoon at an estate sale a few miles from our house. We occasionally drop in at these public dispossessions in the dim hope that we can find something to add to the sizable collection of worthless crap that we’ll one day bequeath to our children, so they’ll be burdened with divesting it at a sale of our very own probated “estate” (or, more likely, setting it all on the curb for heavy trash pick-up), although we know the days are long past when we can walk into a falling-down house on the north side of our hometown and discover an ancient bathtub full of 78 RPM records from the pre-dawn hours of rock ‘n’ roll for a dime apiece, as we did about 35 years ago, or purchase a box of near-mint 1950s Police Gazettes for $5 from two elderly gay guys in Montrose, as we did not 20 years ago.

Everyone knows the price of everything in this day of eBay and Antiques Roadshow, and everything’s been Sold American, as the would-be governor has sung, so this time-killing incursion was shaping up as just another disappointing walk through a dead person’s house, one that was certain to leave us especially glum based on the realization that none of the departed’s friends or relations bothered to retrieve his or her family photo albums, which were on sale along with the apparently uncracked Modern Library copy of Ulysses and the worn 1970s furniture that was probably headed curbside (surprisingly, nobody was buying the photos, although they pictured an especially good-looking bunch). We were headed out the door when we spotted something encased in a Ziploc bag that caught our interest---the March 20, 1964 copy of The Houston Press, the very last edition of that daily newspaper. The conductors of the sale were asking $5 but settled without haggling for the 50 cents we offered (that being the going price of a newspaper on the street).

We felt a moral imperative to buy the thing---after all, somebody had bothered to save it, either for sentimental reasons or under the delusion it might be “worth something someday” (that day not having arrived), and now it was lying there on a bookshelf, alone and unwanted. We’re sensitive that way.

We brought the yellowed newspaper home and placed it atop the stack of important papers on our desk, where it gradually settled toward the bottom as more important papers and bill stubs were added. This weekend we finally got around to paring the stack and thought we’d give our purchase a run-through to see if we got our four bits’ worth.

This was The Houston Press published by the Scripps Howard chain, which we’d always heard offered a scrappier, livelier and more sensationalistic alternative to the somnambulant Chronicle and Post of the day. The one that employed Marvin Zindler and Garvin Berry and Maxine Messinger and many others who were in the throes of their journalistic dotage years later when we mistakenly got off the bus in Baghdad on the Bayou (thinking we were in Beaumont).

We weren’t familiar with the particulars of the Press’s demise, but come to find out it went out just on its rear end just like the Post did some 30-odd years later, at least according to the March 20, 1964 The Houston Press. “Houston Press is Sold, 52-Year History Ended by Chronicle Purchase” reads the six-column headline over the play story, which reported: “The Press today announced sale of its plant and certain other assets to The Houston Chronicle after successive years of operating at a loss.” That was it as far as the whys and wherefores of the transaction. The rest of the story dealt with the history of the paper, including the claim that the Press played a major role in implementation of a city manager form of government in Houston (later abandoned “in favor of the present arrangement”) and had “brought to light many instances of misconduct in public affairs.”

“Through the years,” the story concluded, “the Press developed the reputation and the tradition of being a ‘fighting newspaper’ on behalf of the people. That is the tradition that today passes into other hands.”


Other than another small front-page story thanking readers for 52 wonderful years, there was no indication in the paper that the ride was over, the song had ended, that time had stopped in that most time-bound of institutions, the daily newspaper. (As the Stones were to ask just a few years later in their grossly underappreciated Between the Buttons LP, “Who wants yesterday’s papers? Who wants yesterday’s girl?” Answer: “Nobody in the world.”)

Right under news of the paper’s demise is a large picture of three bad customers who appear to be conversing with “Police Chief Buddy McGill” (a picture that today would be exposed by some sharp-eyed blogger as “obviously posed”). The surly trio were subordinate players in an ongoing drama in which they were accused of stealing $160,000 from Corrigan’s Jewelers on Post Oak and turning the “loot” over to a former Pasadena mayor named Sam Hoover (we recall hearing of this affair many years later and believe there was lots of other stuff involved, stuff we’ve mercifully forgotten). Also on the front page is a blurb for a story inside on Mary Wells, a sophomore at Lamar High who “appreciates a class with a challenge” and thus was the paper’s 38th, and very last, “Teen of the Week” for that school year.

It was business as usual, too, in the paper’s letters-to-the-editor section, which included off-kilter missives from locally renowned letter-to-the-editor writers W.A. Stubblefield and Carl Brownfield, who continued to ply their letter-writing avocation long after the Press was shuttered, and for all we know may still be writing away (or maybe …they’ve become bloggers!)

And then there is Maxine Messinger’s last “Big City Beat” column for the Press, which wheezes un-self consciously on with the usual collection of freeze-dried air kisses to the rich and locally famous, the faintly sleazy and, mostly, the clients of her PR buddies, the same kind she’d continue to blow for a jillion more years as a Chronicle institution. Almost every bold-faced, three-dot item is shot through with a nearly poignant yearning for World Class status … yes, even then:
THE LAST WORD: Houston’s folk singing group, The Rum Runners, got good reviews on their stint in Kalamazoo, Mich., and head from there to a stint at the Old Town North in Chicago. APA, one of the major booking agents in show biz, is interested in signing the fellas, and is using the Windy City date as a showcase for viewing ’em …”
Whoever said past is prologue wasn’t shittin’!

A few months after obtaining this artifact of what may or may not have been a simpler time we met a guy a little older than us who had grown up on the southeast side of town and graduated from Jesse Jones High, when it was an all-white institute of secondary learning, and whose father served on the Houston City Council in the 1950s. One day this fella showed us a photocopy of the front page of a Houston Press from 1957, which featured a huge picture of his father over a story in which the councilman was accused of soliciting bribes in an alleged scheme involving the redemption of MUD bonds in areas the city had targeted for annexation (which did sound like a fertile field for corruption).

The story was based solely on the otherwise uncorroborated allegations of two former bond traders (if we’re remembering correctly), one of whom had since entered the pet-grooming racket (or something like that), and it rambled along in an odd conversational tone as the reporter supplied such incidental details as one of the accusers lighting a cigarette and propping his feet on his desk while music from the “hi-fi” drowned out the traffic from Kirby Drive. It was strange, to say the least.

The fella told us that nothing at all happened after the story appeared, at least with regard to the allegations.

This fella, we might add, became a newspaperman.